Changing views of General Custer [Completely new thread title]

Today in class my teacher was talking about ways that our view (The American People) on General George Custer have changed. But I have to diasgree with this. I believe that People have always thought the same about him and his ways. Is there anyone else who agrees with me or the teacher and how so?

What does your teacher say people used to think versus what they think now?

Explain why you believe you’re correct and you’re teacher isn’t.

I’m not a historian, but it seems to me that nearly all of our historical figures are viewed differently now than they were back in the past. Why would Custer of all people be the exception to this rule?

Back in 1876, Custer was a heroic martyr, murdered by “redskins.” Today, he’s an impetuous jerk who bit off way more than he could chew. The transformation happend over the years with little fits and starts.

(“Little Big Man” was one of those fits…)


The way my teacher had discribesed it was more in the fact that about 60-70 years ago people would think of him as someone who would be a modern day Martin Luther KInk. How he was eliminating the problems(aka indians), and making the world a better place. But now people think that he has been a stuck up man who went down for his pride and what he was doing was completly wrong(like Hitler). I think that people have always thought of him this way even back in the 1800’s, it’s just that back then if you went against a great general or against you country you would be killed.

Well, what reason do you have for believing this, aside from speculation? Absent any evidence to the contrary, I’d suggest trusting your teacher.

I’ll stick up for your teacher and say “Cite?” Especially about the “killed” part.

AFAIK, back then, Americans wanted very badly to get rid of the Indians and get their hands on the land. They were afraid of, and unfriendly toward, the ‘savages’ --remember the old saying from Little house on the prairie about “The only good Indian is a dead Indian?” It had only been a generation or so since Andrew Jackson, who was a great popular hero–largely because he ruthlessly slaughtered thousands of innocent Indians.*

I’m not sure we can even get a good handle on what people were feeling back then, it’s changed so much. Large amounts of research would be in order if you wanted to make a case for a statement like yours.

*For those who gave me recommendations: see, I’ve been reading! But I’m not up to Custer yet, so feel free to take my words for what they’re worth–zip.

Well that is true I don’t know for a fact that they were killed. But I do know that if someone were to be in duty and they didn’t follow his orders because someone thought that they were morally wrong, then disaplinary actions would have to be taked(not too sure what).

I think kblerelfs has half a point.

It is true that even back in the nineteenth century, there were people who thought of Custer as a vicious murderer who deserved to die, who thought that what he was doing was absolutely wrong and despicable. Some of the people who thought that shot Custer full of arrows.

I think that all too often when discussing perceptions of racism, colonialism, etc., white people have a tendency to discuss only the changing perceptions of white people. Thus you’ll have things like an exhibit in a Charleston, SC museum talking about how the city’s residents were terrified at the approach of the Union army – completely ignoring the likely feelings of the city’s enslaved population.

So yes, keebler: the idea that Custer was a wrongheaded arrogant murderer is not a new idea. What’s new is that this is now a much more accepted argument in schools and other academic circles, and indeed amongst the white population at large; inasmuch as that’s what your teacher was talking about, she has a point.


Moderator’s Note: Kblerelfs, I have changed the title of your thread. “Teacher Vs. Student” doesn’t really say much about what the thread’s actually about .

From what I have seen and heard I don’t think americans think of Custer as a “hero”… more like a symbol of the hardships of conquering such a huge country. I doubt there are many revisionists viewing him as a murderer and such… even thou he might have been a little too energic.

Columbus is going thru a similar revision… descendents of natives are widely calling to consider him a genocidal conqueror. Most just see him a historical figure. I know Italians in the US have the Columbus day thingy… but its more to do with “italy” than with Columbus and the discovery. I hardly think most North or South Americans consider him a “hero”.

Rashak, Columbus day is a bank holiday in the US. He’s definitely considered a hero by most US folks.


Not to hijack, but I actually did choke on a piece of muffin at that . . . Carry on . . .

Well, one way to look at how “people” thought of him would be to see how he is presented in fiction.

Look at the 1922 movie Custer’s Last Fight in which Custer is simply a hero fighting off savages.

Then the 1942 movie, They Died with Their Boots On where Errol Flynn plays Custer and is portrayed as a hero trying to help the indians.

Then the 1967 series Custer in which he is portrayed as the good guy. (The series flopped, partly because it was terrible, but also because it was already difficult in 1967 to see Custer as a hero.)

Then 1970’s Little Big Man depicts Custer as pretty much of a monster.

Movies and TV series since that time have tended to either follow a path of describing him as flawed or repeating the monster view. However, prior to Little Big Man, he was generally either admired (with the admission that his arrogance gave him a fatal flaw), or seen as a martyr to Indian savagery.

I would say that his reputation very definitely has changed throughout the last 125 years.

For the most part he had a positive image in US history from before his death all the way through the 1950’s at least. You can find at least one movie about Custer made in the 40’s or 50’s that showed him in an extremely positive light. Try finding a movie made during the 70’s or later that potrays him as a great American hero.


Actually, I don’t think any of 'em knew it was Custer leading the attack. After the battle the Indians swooped down, mutilated the bodies, and stripped them of their wealth. In Custer’s case they didn’t mutilate him but instead left his body intact. They might not have thought him a soldier because he didn’t wear the blue but instead had buckskin on. If they knew it was Custer I think they’d have mutilated him along with the others.


Certainly, we also have a tendancy to ignore the negative aspects of other groups these days.


Was Custer really any worse then other Indian fighters? Is he reviled partly because he was popular for so long?


According to Charles Panati’s Extraordinary Endings Of Practically Everything And Everybody

Custer’s scout had warned him that the attack would be stupid and suicidal. Captain Frederick Benteen served under Custer and thought the guy was an arrogant shmuck.

I recommend reading Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee-How The West Was Lost. A surprising number of military officers and government agents thought that the Indians should be allowed to live peacefully on their lands and that the US’s ongoing treaty violations and slaughter were inexcusable. They were replaced with officers and agents who thought that the only good Injun was a dead Injun. I’m sure there were officers who held that Custer’s assualt(motivated entirely by the discovery of gold on Sioux lands) was illegal and immoral.

I guess I’m under the impression that he’s reviled because he’s so well-known; other Indian killers, less famous, are consequently less infamous.

MGibson, it’s true that white academics tend to minimize the atrocities committed by non-white folks. Both that, and considering only changing attitudes amongst white folks, are affronts to good scholarship.